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Needs: Independent, Grouped, Hierarchy or Network?


Explanations > Needs > Needs: Independent, Grouped, Hierarchy or Network?

Independent | Grouped | Hierarchy | Network |  So what?


There are many models that spell out human needs, each with its adherents and detractors. These may also add meta-information about how the needs relate to one another, including views of needs being independent of one another, grouped in related sets, stacked in a hierarchy or interlinked in a complex network.

Independent needs

The principle of independent needs assumes that needs have no particular relationship with one another and can be treated as a set of variables that can be considered individually.

Independent needs make life easier in that an individual or influencer can focus on one at a time without worrying too much about how one need may affect another. This approach may be viewed as simplistic, given the complexity of human motivation and thought.

At best, needs should be considered as largely independent, yet still watched for interaction with others, especially in cases if individual human operation.

Grouped needs

The principle of grouping assumes that several individual needs are related by a common theme, such as social identity or understanding the world. Each need may fit with just one group or can be a part of multiple groups.

The full set of needs can be shown using a Venn diagram, where each group (or 'set') of needs is enclosed by a circle or closed line. Larger groups (supersets) can contain smaller groups (subsets). Where needs belong to multiple groups, this is shown with overlapping circles.

Grouped needs help influencing by indicating a higher purpose that can be taken into account and perhaps addressed in other ways. For example, the need to belong can be seen as a part of the need for social identity, which may also be addressed through the need for esteem.

Hierarchies of need

Needs can also be arranged as hierarchies. In this definition, a hierarchy is not so much a tree structure (like an organizational hierarchy), which is a variant on nested groups. Rather, it is a prioritized set of levels where lower level needs are more fundamental and, if not sufficiently satisfied, will drag attention away from higher needs.

The most well-known hierarchy is that described by Maslow. Other models such as Herzberg's Motivation-Hygiene Theory differentiate between basic needs, which are typically more animalistic and related to survival, and higher needs, where more human social and transcendental needs may be found.

The effect of the hierarchy can be seen when a person is unwell and all thought of social graces are forgotten as the person lies untidily in their sickbed. Likewise, a falling branch will interrupt thoughts of social decorum as we leap to safety.

Despite prioritisation effects, hierarchies are not always strict. For example, you do not need to be in perfect health to engage in social interaction.

Multiple needs can be identified at each level in a hierarchy. These may be organized in any way, from a loose subset to a causal network.

A use of this model in influence is to address deficient lower needs before working on higher needs. For example if I want someone to be more socially inclusive, I may have to first address their perceptions of personal safety.

Networks of need

The most complex way of understanding needs is as a network, where any need can be related to any other need. This may be shown by writing down all needs and interconnecting them to show relationships.

The relationship between pairs of individual can be an unspecified, vague connection, but is more useful if this relationship can be named, such as 'are both social' or 'is a part of'. These relationships can be directional (often shown with an arrow) or non-directed.

Groups and hierarchies can be shown as networks, along with more subtle relationships. As needs networks are more complex they are harder to define and remember. However they can be more precise when used in influencing, for example where the relationship between the need to explain and the need for control is used as a part of an overall strategy to help a person feel they are in control.

So what?

How you understand needs will affect how you work with them, and as one of the deepest drivers of people, this can be surprisingly critical. Given the different organizing principles, it is perhaps most useful to see needs as related to one another in possibly different ways, and then to be vigilant as you work with a person's needs.

See also

Maslow's Hierarchy


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